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Legendary Logo Designer Ivan Chermayeff Dies

The graphic designer and corporate branding pioneer created iconic logos for Pan Am, the Smithsonian, and more.

Ivan Chermayeff–legendary designer of Pan Am’s globe symbol, the Smithsonian’s sunburst logo, Showtime’s wordmark, hundreds of posters, and numerous corporate identities–died December 2. According to his family, his peaceful death at home was of natural causes due to complications from diabetes. He was 85.

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In 1957, Chermayeff and his business partner Tom Geismar founded the design firm Chermayeff & Geismar, which is now Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv.

[Image: Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv]

“Ivan was a brilliant designer and illustrator, with a vibrant personal style that reflected joy, intelligence and wit,” Tom Geismar said in a news release about Chermayeff’s passing. “He loved surprise, large-scale objects, and the color red. For over 60 years, Ivan and I have enjoyed a partnership, to which we each brought complimentary talents, in an alliance cemented by shared values and mutual respect. Ivan’s contribution to the field of design will remain unsurpassed.”

Two of the original Mad Men, Chermayeff and Geismar were corporate branding pioneers and were instrumental in positioning design as an essential tool for better business and communication through their work for dozens of companies and governmental agencies. In addition to creating identities for Pan Am, Harper Collins, and the Environmental Protection Agency, they developed high-profile exhibitions, like the U.S. Pavilion at Expo ’67 in Montreal, and installations, like the Kennedy Presidential Library, in Boston.

[Image: courtesy Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv]
“When Tom [Geismar] and I started, there was no such expression as ‘graphic design,'” Chermayeff told Co.Design in 2014. “When a cab driver asked what you did, if you said graphic design, you’d have to explain it for an hour. Instead, we’d just say ‘I’m a commercial artist.’ When I went to Yale [School of Art and Architecture], it was only the second year of the graphic design department. Times have changed–there are now hundreds of thousands of graduates in graphic design in the U.S. alone.”

[Image: Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv]
The son of an architect, Chermayeff was born in London in 1932. He and his family immigrated to the United States during WWII. He studied at Harvard, the Chicago Institute of Design, and Yale, where he met Geismar. Before opening his practice, Chermayeff worked under the famed designer Alvin Lustig designing record covers. In addition to his corporate branding work, Chermayeff created children’s books and was a prolific artist whose preferred medium was collage. In 1979, he received the AIGA Gold Medal, one of the highest honors in design and was inducted into the Art Director’s Hall of Fame in 1981. In 2014 the Smithsonian presented him with a National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement. He is survived by his four children, five grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

[Image: courtesy Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv]
“Ivan is a design icon, but he also was a mentor, a partner, and a friend,” Sagi Haviv, a partner at Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv, said in a release. “He was obsessed with good design. And good to Ivan meant excellent–anything less than excellent wasn’t even design. Ivan’s relentless quest for the perfect relationship between form and idea is the highest inspiration anyone could hope for, and will be his lasting legacy to the industry and the people who knew him.”

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Correction: A previous version of this story attributed the NBC Peacock to Ivan Chermayeff. While his firm designed the logo, he himself did not.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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